THE FOLD — All I care about now are the Crows. And discovering my latent Grisha powers. Ben Barnes with tears in his eyes. When I casually started watching Shadow and Bone on Netflix last Friday, I thought "meh, this will probably be kind of dumb," because it's really, really hard to get fantasy right. By the time I finished season one a few days later, I was not only impressed, I was a disciple, largely thanks to this incredible cast.
Leigh Bardugo's fantasy series (three in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, two in the Six of Crows duology) is drawing all kinds of comparisons (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) but truly belongs nowhere near either of those fantasy behemoths. Which is a huge relief. After the disappointment of GoT and the disgusting prejudice of JK Rowling, fantasy fans need something un-problemetic that will engross and move them, but also just be a lot of fun.
The show starts like this: Alina Starkov is magic, but she only recently discovered this. Furthermore: she can wield the kind of big magic that can be used to defeat the shadowy territory that has divided her country. That's the setup. Entertainment Weekly has a great guide to the basics of the Grishaverse, if you'd like to explore.
The execution of Shadow and Bone, however, goes way beyond its simple premise. The costumes are rich, the settings are detailed — and neither are inspired (like your usual old timey fantasy show) by medieval England, but old Russia. Just that fact makes it fresh, and is certainly a contributing factor to the fact that Shadow and Bone has been in Netflix's top ten for two weeks in a row. But the characters, well-formed by Bardugo's books, totally pop on screen.
Jesper, Inej and Kaz (pictured above and portrayed by Kit Young, Amita Suman, and Freddy Carter respectively) are not in the Shadow and Bone saga — they are part of their own story in Six of Crows. But since they exist in the same universe, the show decided to bring all these beloved characters together. And the casting of these three was ... just inspired. Young along carries enough charisma as Jesper to wipe out an entire CW show's worth of hotties. Suman displays incredible control as the deadly but principled Inej. And Carter is doing something I can't even explain. The performance is so compelling and strange, it will hold you captive. The absolute confidence and swagger that all three of them bring to these roles is incredibly fun.
Jessie Mei Li plays Alina, and avoids the sometimes-problem of a genre show female lead being forgettable, by keeping enough edge to be interesting and enough kindness to root for her. She is surrounded in The Little Palace (where her fellow Grisha live) by a range of characters with questionable moral centers who all contribute to the various conflicts in the show. Like Daisy Head, who plays Genya, and turns out to be *spoiler* more than she seems.
Somewhat secondarily are Danielle Galligan (who will get a full post here, later) as Nina, Calahan Skogman as Matthias, and Archie Renaux as Mal. They're all fantastic. Everyone is fantastic.
But the best, best, best member of this cast is Ben Barnes. He plays the hottie slash villain The Darkling, and the story of his casting is absolutely hilarious. As told in Polygon, Barnes had been fan cast in this role on Tumblr for years. The showrunner was unaware of this, citing a connection he had to Barnes through his wife as the reason he asked Barnes to audition. They were looking for the right actor, but also someone who could be a good mentor figure for the younger cast. He mentioned Barnes to Bardugo, who sent him the fan edit as a joke.
"While (Eric) Heisserer was only aware of Barnes’ connection to the character through Bardugo, it turned out that the actor himself had a little more awareness of the phenomenon.
'Toward the end of the lunch, Ben slid over his phone at me,' recounts Heisserer. 'And it was the same Tumblr post, [and he was] like, ‘You’re gonna hire me now, aren’t you?’'"
FILLORY — If you're like me and Quentin Coldwater, you're kind of obsessed with Fillory. And by that I mean the cancelled-too-soon SyFy show The Magicians that is my favorite television program ever produced.
One of my favorite things about this very, very good urban fantasy show is the costume design. If you haven't seen a Margo the Destroyer gown that coordinates with her eyepatch, you have truly not lived. The clothes are fanciful and elaborate for those in Fillory, but very understated and specific for the characters who usually stick to Earth. Peter Pan collars, for example, belong to Alice Quinn, while Kady Orloff-Diaz is the owner of any leather jackets.
I reached out to the costume designer, Magali Guidasci, in search of a pair of Julia Wicker's earrings (vintage, unfortunately, and nothing I can hop online and buy), and we got to talking about the incredible clothes on this fantastic show.
"You support a character - building and styling within the story," Guidasci said. "Adding, with costume, a layer to it that can possibly add information about the character's emotional journey or how they copy with challenges or define themselves."
As tempting as it might be to go with what's in style, Guidasci said it goes way beyond choosing things that look good or trendy.
"However, details are important," Guidasci said. "Little beautiful pieces that can bring delicacy to the character is a must. For our lovely Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve) the barely-there, elegant jewelry has been impactful to her character."
Making pieces that were particular to Fillory or the bombastic Marina Andrieski started to become second nature for Guidasci as the show went on. As she put it to SyFy:
"Once you have been with a character for a while, you know who they are and how they've evolved, so that if the writers were to send Eliot to the moon I would know exactly what Eliot would wear in space. "
Check out this delightful slideshow of the top ten outfits from The Magicians to re-live the incredible details and designs.
RIVERDALE — I really love the Archie universe. Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, and then for a brief fever dream Riverdale have all been major pop culture staples in my life. But nothing has delighted me as much as the Afterlife with Archie horror series that Archie Comics started in 2013.
Hot Dog* dies, Sabrina brings him back to life, but he turns into a zombie and bites Jughead and then Riverdale becomes a horror movie. The backstory of Josie and the Pussycats is that they are immortal vampires who have been ensnaring men for centuries. Riverdale is getting chomped on by zombies, and it's delightfully gory.
The whole thing is just so unhinged because it turns all your expectations of Archie Comics on its head, and then spins it around like a breakdancer. Ultimately, it's the dissonance that makes it great. Watching Betty hit a vampire with a baseball bat is like "ok, yeah I buy it," but watching Veronica do it? You're like "we have truly entered a parallel universe."
So here's the thing:
The Amazon link for the first trade** of this series is collected in "Escape From Riverdale." Great. Read the first five issues and get hooked. But then, the link for the second trade, "Betty RIP" just has the old "currently unavailable" message. On the Archie Horror website, the news page is empty and the shop page is a BROKEN LINK.
Even for those who have read the single issues in the series, the dissatisfaction has been pretty major. The series is supposed to be 12 issues total, but the most recent one (issue 10) was published in 2016!
The writer of the series is (maybe you guessed it) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. It seems he's been busy making a bunch of terrible TV shows to finish up the storyline of his highest quality work! With the almost immediate decline of Riverdale after an excellent pilot, and the obnoxiousness of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, you'd think maybe he would want to return to the creative story he was absolutely nailing five years ago? But I get it: the success of the shows is much shiner than being known as a guy who comes up with cool, unique stuff AND FINISHES IT.
Where the fuck are my final two issues of this story, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa?!
*Hot Dog = Jughead's dog
**trades = a collection of single issues all bound together
LANGLEY — I was only 12 or 13 when Alias came out, and was pretty surprised when my protective parents agreed I could watch it - then joined me every Sunday to see what the CIA and SD-6. We all thrilled in the intrigue, the fight scenes, the high stakes of international espionage.
For such a long time, I was convinced I would eventually become a secret agent just like Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow. I was smart, and if I started right now I could learn how to use all kinds of weapons and speak seemingly every language. Even at twelve, I made fitness goals for myself so I could be strong and kick ass like Sydney. Eventually (like, fifteen+ years later) I gave in and made peace with the fact that I would never work for the CIA or the lesser FBI, and that I was far more suited to play one on TV. (Surprise: the pursuit of acting also requires fitness goals.)
There are countless memorable moments and incredible wigs on Alias, but the one that stands out to me the most - probably for its achievability - is when she changes her entire look in a drugstore bathroom using products she bought in. the. store.
I finally re-watched the scene, featured in the season 2 episode "Endgame," after thinking about it nine of ten times I enter any Walgreens, and it truly is a masterpiece. It’s so short, but packed with excitement.
Sydney is being followed in her car by the enemy, so she pulls into a drugstore parking lot and heads inside: straight brown hair, sunglasses and an all black ensemble. She immediately calls her handler, Vaughn. The conversation that ensues is clearly a code, which he catches on to slowly while Syd takes a basket and starts to shop. The bad guys are listening in. The music denotes intensity. Sydney’s friends back at the Bureau start to decipher her code while she checks out, then asks where the bathroom is.
The music shifts, she makes herself a skirt out of a cow print drawer liner, cuts a nylon to act as a wig cap, (it is maybe far fetched that a drugstore would sell a wig) and becomes a blonde.
Then: the best part of her ploy. She goes up to a group of girls and talks to them about skincare.
“I tried that once, and totally broke out,” says Sydney, who never uses the word ‘totally.’
The girls feel an immediate kinship, then she drives it home by claiming to have been president of her local chapter of their sorority. It’s one of those classic Alias moments where Sydney has a pretty much boundless knowledge of things that seem like they’re not remotely within the wheelhouse of a super-spy.
It’s kind of a Legally Blonde moment. The sisterhood and camaraderie of these girls who are strangers ‘totally’ saves her. She walks out of the drugstore as a blonde part of this group, completely disguised to the guys who were tailing her. She’s just another sorority sister. A girl like that could never be a threat.
I think about this a lot not because I often find myself needing to outrun bad guys but because I just wonder if I could pull it off with the same level of assurity. Imagine the social implications. Not having fun at a party? That’s ok, go put on the skirt you made from the hostess’ tablecloth and one of the Halloween wigs you snatched from their basement and go introduce yourself as someone new!
She so effortlessly enters this conversation, with her perfect smile and bright eyes. Did this inspire a huge portion of the social interactions I had as a teen and might still be a strategy I employ in my early twenties? I’m really blowing up my own spot here but: yes. A quip followed by a carefully researched and planned entry point for bonding is how I make friends. Always. I walk out of tons of pharmacies surrounded by lunch buddies! That was a joke. But for real, thanks to the beauty of social media and people’s ubiquitous presence online I can do a stupid amount of research about someone if I intend to become their friend. I can pull lies out like I’m a goddamn secret agent - effortlessly, with a big smile, and total confidence in my ability to nail this interaction. In theory.
I also think about this a lot because it’s such a good "girl power" scene, where the sisters are willing to include a rando from the pharmacy in their lunch plans because of a shared something. Sure, they think she’s one of them - and Sydney sells it hard by referring to an exclusive standing lunch they have with a fraternity - but they also probably would’ve been ok with a bevy of other similarities.
In a show where Sydney Bristow is often the only girl in the room, her greatest and most threatening rivals are women. They happen incredibly infrequently, but in amazingly personal and heartbreaking ways - her mother, for example becomes her major nemesis. Her best friend is a sleeper agent. The love of her life marries someone else, and she turns out to be pretty damn evil.
Whenever I watched Alias, I watched Syd and her team of boys and men and actual dads and father figures guide and work with and against her, and it reinforced my deeply held belief that the peak of success meant being the only girl in a sea of men. But this scene causes me to examine that. How girls can help each other escape the bad guys. Maybe if Sydney had worked with more women, the show wouldn’t have devolved into a madness I can barely even remember witnessing. But regardless, that has never stopped her from being my ultimate hero. Catch me in the drugstore trying to buy an outfit to fit in better with the cool girls.
WAKANDA (FOREVER) — If you're like the rest of planet earth, you probably love Marvel. There are a few holdouts still walking around acting like the joy of a 21-episode serialized movie storyline with TV offshoots that also fit into the extended universe isn't the greatest cinematic achievement of the twenty-first century but ... they're wrong.
I know that Marvel fatigue can set in sometimes, in these giant phases of hit-and-miss standalone pieces that build to the thing we're all really here for (Avengers movies or, Avengers Lite in the form of Captain America: Civil War (Team Iron Man)). I also know that while Wandavision was a crowning achievement of television creativity, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a letdown, just further compounding the fact that it's been a long-ass time since we got to sit in a theater together and see our friends. (Our friends The Avengers.)
But today's new Marvel Studios video - "Celebrates The Movies" by reminding us that goddammit, we're all just as connected to these stories and characters as we ever were. Featuring a sweet voiceover from Stan Lee, clips of nearly every character (even Goose!), and the Marvel Studios intro that has come to signal in my brain at least that I'm about to have a really good, emotional time, the video will either make you cry or you're a robot.
The message is about coming back together as a community of fangirls and boys, to sit together and enjoy this sprawling universe — one that is only starting to grow — and enjoy the magic again.
The video also features some exciting reminders about what's to come in Phase Four:
Are you ready? Don't forget to listen to my podcast, My first name is Agent, where I re-watched and talked about every single movie in the MCU. And comment your favorite moments from the video below!